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STEM comes alive for students through immersive camp

Even though summer is a time to relax, these high school students are busy learning about the wonders of STEM.

Through the duration of this week, Riverland Community College had hosted the “STEM Comes Alive” boot camp, that engaged 19 students about the world of agriculture science and food science technology that immersed them in the industry.

This past week marked the first “maiden flight” for the camp through Riverland’s Center for Agricultural and Food Science Technology, and focused primarily on the theme “water,” according to Director Dan Hoffman.

Tom Cotter talks organic farming with students taking part in a STEM Camp. Eric johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“It’s so gratifying,” Hoffman said. “This class is really, characteristically, a small representation of a community really tied to agriculture. Ninty-eight percent of our economy consume what the 2 percent produces.”

Using tenets of STEM, students from all over the southeastern Minnesota region came to Austin and partook in activities such as learning about water quality, attending tours of the waste water treatment plant, learning about what role water plays in agriculture and food processing of grain in the region and learning about biofuels.

Hoffman said that there were opportunities for students to also try their hand at a virtual combine simulation and other activities involving virtual reality technology.

These sessions involved tours at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center along with a scavenger hunt in various natural habitats while collecting water samples for testing in Riverland’s chemistry labs. There was also interactions between students and farmers that helped answer questions that students may have had regarding agriculture and the role farmers were playing in improving agricultural practices and water quality preservation in the industry.

Hoffman said that the students had an opportunity to examine the collected samples underneath microscopes. Thanks to funding assistance with Riverland and The Hormel Foundation, Hoffman said he hopes that the program would be able to continue for another year next summer.

“The students are really intelligent and got to develop leadership skills and also learned some skills,” Hoffman added. “There was some cultural enrichment too. They did what was expected and asked of, and more. I really do think these young folks will do just fine and propel our region and economy. They’ll be great leaders.”

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